Today in describing Thursday’s Question Time, The Australian's Samantha Maiden described it as Gillard “entered the killing zone”. It was a great description of events, and I want to revisit just how brutal was Julia. Given only true political nerds read Hansard (and yes, I raise my hand), I decided to bring Hansard to Grog’s Gamut. I’ve only done this once before (not coincidentally it was to relate another Gillard performance). It is a bit of a long post – but it will be 7 weeks before the next Question Time, so indulge me!
To grasp the full context of her work on Thursday we need to quickly go back and look at a question given to her on Wednesday from the new Member for Bradfield, Paul Fletcher. Fletcher is pretty intelligent bloke – he is very good on communications policy as a former advisor to Richard Alston when he was Minister for Communications, and he was also as a Director with Optus. But he is babe in the parliamentary woods, and he was about to meet Julia the red fox (or as some like to call her – the powerfox!).
Fletcher’s question concerned the Gordon East Public School, comparing a building done under the BER with one built in 2005:
Building the Education Revolution Program
Mr FLETCHER (3.05 pm)—My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, the Minister for Education and the Minister for Social Inclusion. I refer the minister to the case of the Gordon East Public School, which in 2005 built a new and large specialised learning room for $170,000 at $920 per square metre. This year the school’s stimulus project has cost $2 million for four small classrooms and internal works in an administration block at $4,870 per square metre. Does the minister regard this as value for money?
Now Julia has had a stack of these types of questions – they are hardly going to trip her up. But she doesn’t always have the details of every school at hand, and in those cases she adopts a pretty strong defence:
Ms GILLARD—I thank the member for his question. I say to the member that if he wants this example looked at I would be very happy to have the department look at it. As I indicated to the parliament as recently as yesterday, there is a dedicated audit squad in New South Wales that is looking at cases as they are referred. Indeed, even before this parliament was sitting this week or last week, the audit squad was out checking on value for money. It has already checked 102 schools, and that process to verify value for money goes on.
A good solid opening; nothing fancy.
Can I also say to the member that, when we investigate claims made by members of the opposition in this place, we often find that people are not comparing apples to apples in terms of cost. I understand how that can happen. When a local builder is asked to quote they might quote to fit-out stage, because that is what they are used to quoting, but not give a quote that includes all of the internal fittings in the way that the Building the Education Revolution program does. So we often find that the figures given to us are not ‘apples to apples’ quotes. The member obviously wants this looked at.
Mr Fletcher interjecting—
Fletcher thinks Gillard is now trying to dodge the question and so starts to interject. He should be listening to her – she will make him pay… Julia does not forget such impertinence…
Ms GILLARD—If he stops yelling at some point and provides some information then we will ensure that the information is looked at by the department. If there are any issues arising from that look by the department, the matter will go to the New South Wales audit squad.
And so she ends. Not a stunning performance, but she certainly wasn’t troubled. Fletcher can enjoy 24 hours of thinking he got into the ring with the best Parliamentary prize-fighter and he sort of held his own.
Which brings us to Thursday. The first question Julia gets from the Opposition comes from the National Party's Kay Hull, concerning another school. This time Julia is more than prepared:
Building the Education Revolution Program
Mrs HULL (2.57 pm)—My question is to the Minister for Education. I refer the minister to the case of the Berridale Public School, which received a prefabricated, transportable library under the school halls program with the basic cost being $385,000; yet the total cost of the project is $895,000—an additional $510,000 to deliver and install. How can the minister justify such expense when a standard four-bedroom, two-bathroom Timberline homestead delivered and installed to site within 100 kilometres from Lisarow, New South Wales, costs only $143,000?
What a scandal! It’s the type of thing 2GB’s Ray Hadley and The Today Show have been banging on about all week. Will Julia be forced to play defence?
Ms GILLARD—I very much thank the member for her question because it will enable me to clarify some claims made about the Building the Education Revolution Program. On the claim made by the member about Berridale Public School, I am very happy to answer that claim—very happy to answer it.
“very much thank”, “very happy to answer”? This does not bode well for Kay Hull.
The details of this are actually very obvious and could have been obvious to anybody who made some basic inquiries.
“Basic enquiries”? Well that rules out most of the Opposition…
There has been a comparison published about construction at the Berridale Public School of a toilet block and there have been some suggestions that the construction costs for this mean that the construction costs for the new library there are somehow not right.
I inform the House that the toilet block there is 36 square metres and the new library facility is 162 square metres. They are not comparable buildings. When you go down to the square metre cost, on the square metre cost you find that one comes in at $4,766 and the other comes in at $5,500—not significantly different.
It would be weird to new comers to Australia's political system to hear our Deputy PM talk about costs per square meter, but this is what the Opposition likes to focus on – so Gillard is responding by demonstrating she is well and truly across the facts.
Then on the question of comparison with residential construction, I inform the honourable member that there are different building codes and different standards for school construction than for residential construction—different glass, different safety standards. All of the things about the building are different and more costly because it will be there for children.
This is actually a point that has been crying out to be made for a while now – it is dumb to compare the cost of a library with the cost of a four bedroom home – the building codes etc are completely different (and yet the media does it.. sigh).
Opposition members interjecting—
Ms GILLARD—On the question of the Building the Education Revolution—
Note that to this point all Julia has talked about is Berridale Public School and the library facility. The opposition are angry because she’s not talking about precisely what they want her to talk about – but she is without a doubt being relevant to the question. But the troops to the left of the Speaker are getting very antsy, most likely because they realise this question is about to blow up in their face:
The SPEAKER—The Deputy Prime Minister will resume her seat. The members for Wakefield and Canning will leave the chamber under 94(a).
The members for Wakefield and Canning then left the chamber.
Wow! Two kicked out in one go! Admittedly the House was on a general warning but, still, that’s some nice work! Chris Pyne obivously wants to join in with the hubbub:
The SPEAKER—It would be very nice to think that you would be the last Mohican here, but I am not sure. I call the Manager of Opposition Business on a point of order.
Mr Pyne—Can’t get rid of me.
The SPEAKER—Don’t test me.
Mr Pyne—I am very hard to kill with an axe, as someone once said.
The SPEAKER—Order! Whilst I know that this is good natured, there is still the general warning. The Manager of Opposition Business has the call for a point of order.
Mr Pyne—Mr Speaker, the minister was not asked a question about what she is answering. She was asked how she could explain the $510,000 to install a prefabricated library in country New South Wales.
The SPEAKER—The member for Sturt will resume his seat. The Deputy Prime Minister has the call.
When Pyne stood up apparently one member of the Government called out asking if Gillard was being “too relevant”!
Ms GILLARD—Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Of course, I have just been dealing with the question of costs at the Berridale Public School— exactly what I was asked. On the question of the Building the Education Revolution, I say to the House the following: a question was raised with me yesterday by the member for Bradfield about costs and construction at the Gordon East Public School. So serious was this matter—I would have thought they would have wanted an answer but obviously not; you do not really care, do you?
Now Julia is drifting away from the question, she’s onto the Gordon East School from Wednesday– so we know what to expect:
The SPEAKER—The Deputy Prime Minister will resume her seat.
Ms Julie Bishop—Mr Speaker, on a point of order: there is a process if the minister wants to add to an answer. She should answer the question she has been asked now, which is the $510,000—
The SPEAKER—The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume her seat. The Deputy Prime Minister will relate her material to the question.
Ms GILLARD—I was asked about the question of costs and the Building the Education Revolution program. I have been dealing with the matter involving Berridale and I am very keen to deal with the matter involving Gordon East Public School, a matter about which the member was so concerned that he personally delivered a letter to my office requiring me to attend—
Bishop – perhaps correctly assuming this ain’t going to end well tries again to put a stop to it:
Ms Julie Bishop—Mr Speaker, on a point of order: if the minister wishes to add to an answer from yesterday she can do it at the end of question time. There is a question now about Berridale Primary School and $510,000 in additional costs to install a prefab building. She should answer that question or sit down.
The SPEAKER—Whilst it is not something that is to be encouraged, this is not the first time that an answer has been added to directly in this manner. It becomes in my mind, when it is clearly indicated that that is what happening, six of one and half a dozen of the other about the timing. I am happy to allow the Deputy Prime Minister to continue, but I would urge her in the circumstances to do it briefly.
Ms GILLARD—I was asked yesterday by the member for Bradfield about Gordon East Public School. So concerned was he about this matter that he brought a letter round to my office asking for an audit team to attend at the school at 8.30 on Friday morning. I can report to the House that I have investigated the matter. I rang the school principal. I would have thought he would have wanted to know what the school principal had to say.
Pyne now comes in, but the problem is now it is obvious that the question has completely backfired on the Libs – Pyne is forced to intervene to try and stop Gillard from quoting a Principal (not a good look).
Mr Pyne—Mr Speaker, on a point of order: this is actually an important point, because another aspect of the standing orders is that you do not allow the Leader of the Opposition to take a personal explanation whenever he is being defamed in the House; you make him wait until the end of question time. So why is there one rule for the government and another for the opposition?
The SPEAKER—That reflection on my actions is through the coloured glasses that the Manager of Opposition Business has. I am happy that what I am doing is consistent with past practice. Let us get it crystal clear about personal explanations. There is nothing in my actions that is in any way different to the way in which they have been handled for at least the last 24 years that I have been a member of this House. In respect of adding to answers, there is ample precedent by both sides of the chamber in that 24 years where this device has been used. The Deputy Prime Minister has the call. I have urged her to come quickly to a conclusion in her answer.
The problem is that not only is the question now proving to be a disaster for the Opposition, so too are the numerous points of order, because they have given her and Albanese time to quickly rearrange tactics:
Ms GILLARD—Given I do have extensive information about this matter and that clearly the opposition is not interested in what a school principal has to say, I will deal with this matter separately in the House. Obviously, its desperation to cover it up will just mean than I will be continually interrupted if I try to do it now.
Gee, whenever will she get a chance to deal with the matter, I wonder?
Building the Education Revolution Program
Mr NEUMANN (3.06 pm)—My question is the Minister for Education, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and the Minister for Social Inclusion. Will the Deputy Prime Minister update the House on the rollout of the Building the Education Revolution and of responses to this?
Boom! This was a textbook case of how to use Dorothy Dixers to your advantage.
Ms GILLARD—What a wonderfully perceptive question from the member for Blair. It enables me to inform the House about the circumstances at Gordon East Public School raised with me yesterday by the member for Bradfield—
A great response – she had the ALP member laughing loudly, and the Opposition realising they had been totally outflanked. Fletcher, perhaps still thinking he was Gillard’s measure began to start hurling invective.
Mr Fletcher interjecting—
Ms GILLARD—who is yelling and screaming now. He may just want to listen. So concerned was he about this matter that he ran a letter around to my office—
You always know Gillard is confident when she starts referring to members of the Liberal Party as though they were little school boys. Fletcher couldn’t take it.
Mr Fletcher interjecting—
The SPEAKER—The Deputy Prime Minister will resume her seat.
Mr Fletcher interjecting—
The SPEAKER—The member for Bradfield will leave the chamber under 94(a) for one hour.
Mr Fletcher interjecting—
The SPEAKER—The member for Bradfield is named.
Mr Broadbent—Mr Speaker, having regard for the newness of member!
The SPEAKER—I appreciate that, and it hurts me to actually do it, but I think that it has to be done.
Mr Albanese—Mr Speaker, I move that the member for Bradfield be suspended from the service of the House.
The SPEAKER—I am sorry that this has caused that type of disquiet but I can assure all members that—even under the general warning when they were interrupting me in my thought patterns—I have absolutely thought about this very carefully.
I’ll cut out all the Hansard of the votes; needless to say Fletch was booted. Without even letting Gillard begin, so desperate were the Liberal Party not to let her talk, that good ol’ Bronnie Bishop was on her feet before Julia was even able to continue speaking:
Mrs Bronwyn Bishop—On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I would refer you to footnote 264 on page 552 of the practice which sets out how a minister may add to an answer. She has the choice of seeking indulgence from you or alternatively giving a written answer to the Clerk. In either case, if she insists on trying to add to an answer you really must ask her to sit down and follow the proper procedures of the House.
The SPEAKER—Order! The member for Blair has asked a question relating to the update of the rollout of the Building the Education Revolution and the Deputy Prime Minister it is responding to this question.
Julia is not at all perturbed that 5 minutes has intervened since she last spoke, she continues as though nothing has happened – not a stride lost.
Ms GILLARD—I continue with my response to the question from the member for Blair. The member for Bradfield has now left the chamber having been named and I will explain why he should also be ashamed. Yesterday in this parliament he raised with me a question about the Gordon East Public School. He talked about buildings built there in 2005 and claimed they had a $920-per-square-metre cost. He compared this with the current Building the Education Revolution work and claimed that had a $4,870-per-square-metre cost. He said this matter was of the highest urgency. He demanded that I meet him on Friday at 8.30 a.m. at the school with an audit squad.
Julia relates the facts as suggested by Fletcher (and sections of the media I should add), it is all a setup however:
He was so worked up about it I thought I would look into the matter directly myself, so I rang the principal of the school, Ms Gail Smith—and a lovely lady she is.
Uh oh. She has spoken to the principal. She calls her a “lovely lady”. This is not good. She is meant to only go by media reports – after all that’s all the opposition uses!
Of course, the member for Bradfield is unlikely to know that, because he has never spoken to her in his life about the Building the Education Revolution program. Never once has he spoken to her about the Building the Education Revolution program, but I did and I can inform the House exactly what she said because I noted it down.
Oh sh*t. She noted it down. This really can’t be good.
First and foremost, the first she had ever heard about an audit squad turning up on Friday was when I told her about it, the member for Bradfield having never seen fit to raise the matter with her.
Julia has just made it sound like Fletcher is not only pig-ignorant, but also damn discourteous to the principal. Now she gets to what the principal precisely said:
On the BER project at her school she said:
“The school is so excited. The four new classrooms are just beautiful. The plans are on the Web. The classrooms are state-of-the-art with a sink, a withdrawal room, an environmentally friendly natural cooling system with a special roof cavity and water tanks. The classroom should be finished towards the end of the next term and will be home to the kindergarten class, two year 1 classes and a year 2 class. The kids can’t wait.”
Oh geez! Just picture those excited and happy school kids – Julia makes it sound like these are kids the Liberals want to make cry!
“The workers are working hard to deliver the new classrooms, even working on Saturday. Some concrete was poured yesterday and the kids were just so excited. From whoa to go the school community has been involved. The plans went to the P&C.”
The workers coming in on Saturday?! Bloody hell, this sounds like one of the old Angry Anderson A Current Affair specials when there’d be a challenge to build a classroom for sick kids in 24 hours! The damn community is right behind the thing. “From whoa to go”!! This sounds like some sort of paradise scheme!
Now she gets to Fletcher's argument from Wednesday – remember the claim about a 2005 building being so cheap, and this one being so expensive? Let’s see how that claim stacks up when we apply the old truth filter to it – Julia continues to quote the principal:
“To compare these classrooms to the 2005 classrooms is just not right”—the principal said, because—”The 2005 classrooms are modular. The new classrooms are brick. The 2005 classrooms do not have any of the facilities like the withdrawal room, the sink, the cooling system and the water tanks. The BER money extended so far it went to refurbishing the administration building”—which she described as:” …stunning. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”
Well hell, talk about getting the entire thing wrong – having the principal of the very school you were claiming had been dudded by the BER coming out and saying not only was the money well used, they even had some left over to refurbish the admin building and then to describe the entire operation as “a once in a lifetime opportunity” is not good at all. Not good. And the Liberal Party (and some of the media) should remember this – every electorate in the country will have numerous new school buildings – and all of them will feature in the ALP advertising at the next election. It will be very effective – happy kids, happy parents, happy workers…
But is Julia satisfied with just that? Hell no! Now she twists the knife:
If the member for Bradfield was one of the clapped-out old stagers from the Howard government who was on their way out to pasture, you might say one thing, but this is one of their new, quality candidates that produced this load of old cobblers. The people they are putting in this parliament!—the member for Bradfield is one of the bright new hopes, a new, quality candidate and he cannot even pick up a phone and ring and a principal. That is too hard for him, too complicated. He is so out of touch with his local community. He has absolutely no idea what is going on. Can I make a suggestion to the member for Bradfield, who is now out of this place for 24 hours? He had better spend it eating a lot of humble pie and the very first thing he should do is pick up the phone to this principal and explain he is an idiot and he is sorry.
That my friends is how to absolutely destroy someone in the House of Representatives. “The people they are putting in this parliament!” Not even Keating could have got the tone as perfectly contemptuous as was Julia at that moment.
But she’s not done yet. In her sights is also Andrew Lamming, the Liberal Member for Bowman, who had dopily made a comment about the BER – did he really think Julia wouldn’t take his words and use them against him? Has he not been paying attention for the last two years??
On the question of moderately better performances by people in the opposition—and this is one moderately better performance out of the box, would you believe it, from the member for Bowman? Yes, I did say that and I cannot believe it.
When Julia praises you in the House, I suggest you run – because you are about to be savaged:
A little bit of honesty once in a while seeps into the Liberal Party member. They try and fight it, but once in a while it makes its way in, and today the member for Bowman said:
“Look I’m very grateful for every one of the projects in my electorate. They are all of high quality and the community appreciates them”.
Given the campaign they have been running in this parliament, a journalist, with a slightly incredulous tone, said:
“Just on school stimulus, though, in your opening statement you said you are happy with the projects in your electorate. Is that right?”
And the member for Bowman said: “My projects in the electorate don’t have any of the problems that have been described by others of waste or mismanagement as far as I know. I also talked to all of the principals and they are delighted with them in my electorate.” Correct.
The journalist was incredulous, given the nature of the campaign in this parliament, and said to the member for Bowman:
“So you are delighted?”
And the member for Bowman said: “Absolutely, yes. Yes, I’m happy”.
Isn’t this telling us everything we need to know about the shallow, hypocritical, incorrect campaign being run by those opposite? There they are: the member for Bradfield cannot even be bothered speaking to a principal and when the member for Bowman does he finds out the truth which is that they are delighted with the Building the Education Revolution program.
Poor Lamming, he and every other Opposition MP knows that they can either not talk about the schools being built in their electorate (which people in their electorate will be thinking are “once in a lifetime opportunities”), or they can say something positive, knowing full well Julia will use their words as bullets in a little game call “Hunt the Liberal MP”. Politics is cruel (especially when you vote against something damn popular and successful) .
But Julia is still not finished – she now lets fly a bit of information she has gleaned about the tactics of the Opposition:
This morning I had more of an insight into the way that the opposition works when it comes to Building the Education Revolution. Let me conclude on this—it is about the member for Calare, and you will want to hear this.
No Julia, believe me, the Libs don’t want to hear this, as Joe Hockey tries to explain.
Mr Hockey—Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The point of order is relevance. I would ask her to be relevant—this has been going for how long?
The SPEAKER—Order! There is no point of order. The Deputy Prime Minister is responding to the question.
Ms GILLARD—I understand the member for North Sydney has to remind people that he is still here from time to time.
Ouch. Hockey has been reduced to ballast on the front bench of late, and Julia certainly lets all of Parliament know that it hasn't gone unnoticed that he no longer gets to do much. Politics is a cruel game – especially when you lose a leadership ballot.
But in conclusion, the member for Calare, obviously preparing for question time today, has put through a call to the Catholic Education Office in Bathurst, obviously hoping to chisel out an anti-BER statement. And what have they said? They said that they are happy; they have got absolutely no complaints.
Gillard here has let it be known to the Opposition that she has contacts in the Catholic Education Office, so they will have to tread very carefully if they want to fish around for stories.
All I can assume is that today, by the Leader of the Opposition, would have been ‘Biff a Bishop Day’ if they found out some problems from the Catholic Education Office. Obviously they are happy, principals around the country are happy, principals in the member for Bradfield’s electorate and in the member for Bowman’s electorate are happy, and the opposition stands revealed for the shallow pack of hypocrites they actually are.
And thus for good measure she ends with a bang – Julia is not one to hold off on kicking an opposition when it is down.
And can you believe it – after this answer they decided to ask her two more questions!
The masochistic desire must run deep in the current Liberal Party.